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Bulldogs storm to SEC West title

Mississippi State’s Lawrence Roberts skies over LSU’s Jaime Lloreda for two points in the Bulldogs’ SEC West-clinching 84-56 thumping of LSU on Wednesday at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville. (Jon GiffinThe Vicksburg Post)

[2/26/04]STARKVILLE No elaborate celebrations were staged no champagne corks popped, no donning of hats, no nets cut.

It was a business-like atmosphere for No. 7 Mississippi State as it wrapped up the Southeastern Conference Western Division title for the second straight year with an 84-58 blowout of LSU on Wednesday night.

Lawrence Roberts led four Bulldogs in double figures with 14 points and Mississippi State (22-2, 11-2 SEC) shot 56 percent from the field.

A year ago, Mississippi State defeated Auburn in the final regular-season game to win the division title, and cut down the nets in front of a raucous crowd on senior night at the Hump.

This time around, the players left the floor after a few brief cheers and congratulations, focusing their intensity instead on the upcoming games.

“We wanted to win the West, obviously, but our biggest picture is the overall SEC Championship,” said MSU’s Timmy Bowers, who had 13 points and six assists. “We’re still taking it one game at a time right now. We didn’t want to really cut the nets down until we know we have that opportunity to win the overall championship next week.”

With an aggressive, attacking defense, MSU allowed little penetration into the lane and held LSU’s inside duo of Jamie Lloreda and Brandon Bass to a combined 17 points.

Lloreda, LSU’s leading scorer, had not practiced since re-aggravating his ankle injury against Auburn on Feb. 18, and looked out of sync. He scored 10 points his second-lowest total of the season on 4-of-11 shooting and committed six turnovers.

“I thought our team basically, defensively took them out of most everything they wanted to do,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said.

The Tigers (17-7, 7-6) shot 35 percent from the field, were outscored 46-18 in the paint and were outrebounded 42-26.

LSU has dropped three straight games since a Feb. 14 victory over Florida that vaulted the Tigers to No. 24 in the Associated Press poll. Normally known for their tenacious defense, the Tigers have given up an average of 79 points a game during the three losses.

“We just don’t stop anybody with consistency,” said a weary LSU head coach John Brady. “When people are scoring on us like they have recently, it makes it difficult to sustain any kind of quality play.”

Entering the game in second place in the West, LSU had the only shot at taking the championship away from Mississippi State, but the Tigers never even came close.

The Bulldogs were looking to bounce back from a devastating home-court loss to Alabama on Saturday that ended an eight-game winning streak. They came out firing on all cylinders early to make certain the outcome.

“I’m awful proud of our basketball team, not just because of the win, but because of the way they responded,” Stansbury said. “That was more us tonight. And I think that’s a true test that you can always, under stress and difficult situations, you can really find out what you’re made of.”

Spurred by Bowers’ seven points, MSU jumped ahead to a 15-3 lead in the game’s opening minutes and never trailed throughout.

“That first five minutes set the whole tone for us,” said MSU’s Winsome Frazier, who scored 13 points. “We came out playing aggressive.”

LSU cut the lead to five, but the Bulldogs responded shortly after with an 11-0 surge to stretch the advantage to 34-19 with 8:48 to play in the first half. Mississippi State led 46-30 at halftime.

“We were just so focused this game that we wanted to come out and play the basketball that we’ve been playing,” Roberts said.

The Bulldogs didn’t let up in the second half. They opened with a 10-2 run to increase their lead to 24, and the closest the Tigers came the rest of the way was 16.

“We’re not finished,” Stansbury said. “There’s three more games left and a lot of basketball left to be played, and some other goals out there this team has its eyes set on.”